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Courtside Seat For Basketball Games Helps Ohio Woman Fight Cancer


What does it mean to be a sports fan - not just the part about wearing team jerseys or keeping up with wins and losses - emotionally? NPR's Uri Berliner looked for an answer when he followed a minor league basketball team for a season.

URI BERLINER, BYLINE: The team is the Canton Charge. They play in the NBA Development League in a scrappy Rust Belt city.


BERLINER: Sometimes the arena sells out. But on this snowy, February night, the building is less than half-full, a crowd of 1,694.

BRENDA NEWPORT: You aren't doing it in my corner, Patty.



NEWPORT: No shot over here. Might as well leave now.

BERLINER: That voice belongs to Brenda Newport. Newport has season tickets - floor seats, two of them, right under the basket.

BERLINER: She takes one. One of her 14 children takes the other. Newport is loud.

NEWPORT: (Chanting) Let's go, Charge. Let's go, Charge. Let's go, Charge.

BERLINER: And she's demonstrative. Newport has this nickname, the Dancer, for the routines she does during games.

NEWPORT: I almost feel guilty if I come and I can't jump up and dance as much as I normally do. But it's a struggle. I walk with a cane. Chemo destroys your body a little bit more than you'd like to admit.

BERLINER: Five years ago, Newport was living with breast cancer. She wanted to make the most of her time.

NEWPORT: My husband and I were told I had between three and six months. And my bucket list was always to have floor seats at the Cavs, which wasn't really going to happen without a lot of money.

BERLINER: That's the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James's team. Instead, Newport and her husband got floor seats to the Charge.

NEWPORT: In his mind, as long as I have floor seats and I have excitement coming to the games - that I'm still going to be around. And that was five years ago.

BERLINER: Pretty quickly, Newport discovered there are benefits to rooting for a minor league team.

NEWPORT: The players are so personable. They kind of high-five you, and they talk to you. And you don't always get that when you go to an NBA game.

BERLINER: Antoine Agudio is one of those players. He's known as Mr. Charge. That's his nickname. He's played for the team all of those five years.

ANTOINE AGUDIO: When she comes to the games, she - it brings her life - watching us play, you know, the competition, you know, the game for herself, and she loves it. And, like, it moves her.

BERLINER: Of course, cheering for the home team is just one aspect of being a fan. There's also trying to annoy the opposition. That starts as soon as Newport gets her food and heads to her seats.

NEWPORT: I walk back. And I'll start telling the other team - you know you're going to lose tonight, right? So psychologically, I'm already working on them.

BERLINER: And after halftime, when the opposing team is just a few feet away...

NEWPORT: So I'll say this is my house. This is my corner. You won't make any shots in this corner. And they get so rattled. It's fun to watch.

BERLINER: Until now, so much of her life has been about birth. She's the mother of 14. And then there are the 2,900 babies she's delivered working as a midwife - 2,900. On the other side of all those births, she's got cancer again.

NEWPORT: Cancer has kind of come back. So some nights, I haven't been quite as well. I missed last Tuesday. But generally speaking, as long as I can walk, I'm here.

BERLINER: On this night, Newport gets what she came for, a win by the home team. For her, the games are more than just an enjoyable distraction.

NEWPORT: They're like life to me. I look forward to every game. And I am really disappointed if I can't go. And I go through withdrawals when a season's over.

BERLINER: Uri Berliner, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As Senior Business Editor at NPR, Uri Berliner edits and reports on economics, technology and finance. He provides analysis, context and clarity to breaking news and complex issues.

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